So, Jonny Ive certainly changed things in iOS, just 7 months after taking over. The new version will be out in the autumn with a whole new look and a systematic rethinking of how things work together, though not any fundamental change in how your mother uses it.
He didn't make things 'flat' - in fact the new UX model is based on depth and layers. There's a shock of the new (analogous to the shock of the original Mac OSX, which was also radically different), and plenty of graphic designers are complaining about the colour palette and the typography (forgetting that this is a beta, and that they're mainly only seeing static screenshots). A lot of apps will have to be rethought if they're not to look painfully out of place, just a year after the switch to the larger screen prompted another redesign, illustrating the ways apps are an ongoing commitment if you don't want to damage your brand.
From personal experience, the new look is startling in screenshots but makes a lot of sense when you use it. And actually, most things are roughly the same, just clearer and simpler. But beyond the 'chrome', it seems to me that there are three important things to note.
First, how it works is what matters, and Apple has made a lot of things work better. Most of the UX inconsistencies and confusions (accreted over the past 6 years) have been fixed and, as in every new version of an OS, there are lots of nice little improvements and cool new things. 'Airdrop' peer-to-peer local file sharing (pass this photo/address/video to your friends in the same room, with no set-up at all) solves a real user problem in a way that NFC has tried and fail to address for years, for example.
Second, there are no fundamental structural changes. There is no new model to let apps talk to each other, no API for Siri, no synthesis of the app store and web apps, no (increased) social integration. This may or may not be a good thing. Apple is effectively doubling down on third party developers rather than trying to do more and more itself (Android and Google Now) or integrate everything social into the OS (Windows Phone). Maybe this is philosophical but maybe there just wasn't time, given how much other new stuff there is.
But on the other hand, Airdrop points to some intriguing new opportunities. Things you could 'Airdrop' to your friend's phone as you sit in a bar with them: a video, a Spotify track, a game level, a game, a Yelp review, access to a Dropbox folder...
Third, lots of interesting new APIs for developers. For example:
- Multitasking has been enhanced, allowing more apps to do background downloads without (hopefully) sacrificing battery life.
- Apple is pushing to maintain its lead in games with a new 'Sprite kit' API to make it much easier to make some of the most popular types of games, and adding support for external controllers (which may also point to the future of the Apple TV)
- Built-in barcode recognition
- Bluetooth Beacons APIs, so that a retailer can make an app that will know exactly where it is in a store
- Many improvements to help corporate and educational deployment
- And judging by the applause in the developer session for iCloud, a lot of pain points there have been addressed. But no mention of a step change in the quality of data in Apple Maps.
It (obviously) does not broaden the market for iPhones as long as the phones themselves are priced at the premium end of the market - hence the ongoing speculation about a cheaper phone. My bet is $200, to hit the top end of prepay. We'll see in the autumn when the new hardware is unveiled.
A final note - Google didn't actually announce a new version of Android at Google IO - though it did create a lot of features in Play that will be available to most Android devices. So there's another big unveil coming.